Dallas, Texas: The Sixth Floor Museum and the Old Red Museum

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When you think of Dallas, you think of the Kennedy assassination, right?  I mean, judging by the queue at the Sixth Floor Museum (the former Texas School Book Depository), I have to believe that JFK getting shot is the only thing people associate with Dallas.  Morbid as I am, and as much as I enjoyed the music of Danzig-era Misfits in my youth (and still do, around Halloween), I was actually not all that keen on seeing this museum, since I have very little interest in the history of the  second half of the 20th century, and I assumed (rightly) it would be a tourist trap.  But in the end, we thought we might as well go, since we might never be in Dallas again, which is how we found ourselves in a breezeway next to an overpriced parking lot, standing in the world’s longest queue.  Well, not really, the one at Dismaland for non-ticket holders was definitely longer, but this was probably the longest I’ve waited for something I wasn’t all that interested in in the first place (lines for rides at Disney World don’t count; I wanted to ride those).  The only benefit was that at least we were out of the sun, since it was about a million degrees outside, and I don’t really cope with heat very well.

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When we finally (FINALLY) got to the front of the stupid queue, which probably took over an hour, we then had to part with the absurd $16 admission fee, and join another line to take the lift up.  Of course, you can avoid most of this queuing if you have the foresight to book tickets online (dunno whether there’s a booking fee).  We clearly didn’t, and when we saw the online ticket people skipping to the front, we briefly thought of booking them then and there on our phones, but were quickly warned off by one of the employees, as you can apparently only book them at least two hours out from the time you want to go, and I was certainly not coming back to this place.  So we eventually got up to the Sixth Floor, with our free audio guides (they’d better be free, after paying $16 to get in), only to be met with the mass of people who were in the queue in front of us.  There was no way you could get close enough to most of the signs to read them, so we were left pretty reliant on the audio guide, which you know I hate.  Anyway, even if we could see the signs, this was a lame museum.  The only artefacts to speak of were a model of the assassination site, and a suit one of the cops escorting Lee Harvey Oswald was wearing when Jack Ruby appeared and shot him (Oswald that is, not the cop).  The actual corner where Oswald stood and fired those shots (depending on what you believe I guess, though conspiracy theories are given fairly short shrift in the museum) is behind glass, so you can’t get close to it, though you can see roughly what his view of the grassy knoll would have been from the window a few feet over.  Today the grassy knoll (really just a small patch of grass in the middle of a plaza) is full of idiots who dart between gaps in the traffic to stand on the x in the middle of the road that marks the spot where Kennedy was shot.

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The whole thing was grim really, and not because of the assassination.  I hate being forced to part with that kind of cash for something as uninspiring as this.  The seventh floor, which was the only place you were allowed to take pictures, was even more of a bust.  All it had was some murals of the Kennedys, and another window where you could try to capture the view.  This was an awful tourist trap, and I would not recommend it to anyone, which is really a shame, because they could have done so much more with a building with this kind of history.  Just take a picture of the plaque in front of the building acknowledging that this was the Texas School Book Depository, and spend the money you saved on an ice cream or something else that would actually be enjoyable.  1/5.

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I was more enthusiastic about the Old Red Museum, simply because I’d spotted the building from the highway without knowing what it was, and thought it looked really cool.  Turns out it is both a working courthouse, and a Dallas history museum.  I immediately got annoyed, however, when the guy at the admissions desk disappeared right after we walked in.  We waited around for ten minutes, and were just about to take our chances heading up the museum without a ticket, when he reappeared and sold us our $8 tickets, complete with a hefty free dose of attitude problem (I know that’s rich, coming from me).  There was a temporary exhibit on the ground floor about Mexicans living in Texas that sounded pretty good, but it was just a couple of Mexican dolls in a small room.  Dallas was not going well.

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The actual museum upstairs was a bit better, but still fairly meh.  We ended up watching a couple of the videos, just because our legs were tired from queuing so long over at the stupid Sixth Floor Museum, and we wanted to sit for a while.  One of them promisingly opened with a line about how, “John Neely Bryan was the founder of Dallas.  He would eventually be committed to a mental institution, where he died, but for now he was just a farmer.”  With an intro like that, my expectations were high, but it just gave a very boring history of the early years of farming in Dallas, and never said anything more about Bryan’s alleged lunacy.  This summed up my problems with this museum.  It promised a lot, but it didn’t really deliver.

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Sure, they had Clyde Barrow’s gun, the handcuffs used on Lee Harvey Oswald, and Larry Hagman’s hat from Dallas, the TV show, as promised on their website, but most of it was just your standard local history museum affair, albeit on a slightly larger scale (everything is bigger in Texas, after all).  I would have been fine with that if we’d only paid maybe $3-$5, but for $8, I was expecting something more.  And one of the world’s first frozen margarita machines wasn’t going to cut it, much as I find frozen margaritas the only vaguely palatable way of drinking tequila (perhaps if they’d been giving out free samples of margaritas, it would have improved my mood).

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So it’s fair to say I was not overly impressed with Dallas’s museum offerings.  I do hear very positive things about the Perot Museum, but we could go to a natural history museum anywhere; this was why we opted for things more Dallas-centric, which was clearly a mistake.  The Old Red Museum fared slightly better than the Sixth Floor Museum, because it was half the price, almost empty, and contained more artefacts relating to Kennedy than the stupid Sixth Floor thing did, but it still wasn’t anything I’d go rushing out to see.  Maybe just skip them both and buy two (or four, at least ice cream is affordable here) ice creams.  You’ll need them in that heat.  2.5/5.

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6 comments

  1. I actually liked the Dallas Museum of Art and it’s free except for special exhibits, you might want to try that next time.

  2. I can’t believe they have that margarita machine behind glass. I wouldn’t mind seeing Clyde Barrow’s gun though – but I don’t think I’d pay $8 for the honour.

    1. That’s how they drew us in to begin with. The website prominently mentioned Clyde’s gun and the Lee Harvey Oswald stuff so it looked like they had a lot going on, when of course those were pretty much the only noteworthy things in the whole museum. I should really know better by now, but we were looking to kill time before a flight anyway, so it was good for that, if nothing else.

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